EAST CHICAGO - Brickyard residents fear their bodies and homes are being
poisoned by a nearby toxic waste plant.
But officials at Pollution Control Industries have said neighbors' worries
are all in their heads.
Now, a former top manager at PCI says residents who live next to the plant
have every reason to be terrified.
"They should have a good evacuation plan and practice it often," said
Patrick Gleeson, who served for two months as PCI's operations manager, until
he resigned in May. "I would get the hell out of there."
Homes near PCI have been evacuated three times in the last three years
because of explosions and fires at the plant. A fourth fire occurred on May 10.
Brickyard residents say PCI's fumes and runoff have made people sick.
In a May 28 story in The Times, PCI President and CEO Robert Campbell
dismissed many of the complaints as "psychosomatic."
But Gleeson said he left PCI because safety problems there caused him to
fear for his life.
Poorly trained workers were the primary cause of accidents and other
problems at the plant, Gleeson said.
"If I lived near the plant, I would be the most concerned about fires and
explosions," he said. "I don't see how the fires are going to stop at (PCI)
with their lack of concern."
Campbell said, "We're very, very concerned."
Residents say their children have found discarded, chemical-stained latex
gloves in their neighborhood.
Tita LaGrimas, PCI's director of regulatory affairs, blamed other industries
for discarding the latex gloves.
But Gleeson said he has no doubt the gloves came from PCI.
"That stuff (latex gloves) blows around all over the place out there,"
Gleeson said. "In one instance, me and Tita (LaGrimas) were walking through the
security guard fence, and there were latex gloves outside the facility.
"Tita says that they clean up regularly," Gleeson said. "But when they sent
people out to clean up, it sure sounded like it was a first-time thing.
"I remember somebody complained that they were out there taking pictures and
that The Hammond Times was out there.
"I was told to have the janitor go out and clean up," he said.
Residents say there is "bubbling mud" near the the fence separating PCI from
In March, residents discovered the snow in their yards was blue.
Gleeson said he can explain that phenomenon.
"That was a non-hazardous, blue ink that (PCI workers) were dumping outside
the hopper into their solid dump truck," Gleeson said. "The wind got ahold of
it and blew it all over the place.
"It goes back to training. Who the hell in their right mind would dump blue
dust in the wind?"
Gleeson said PCI workers later were told to disguise the blue chemical,
which caused freshly fallen snow to turn a light shade of blue.
"(Workers) went and got little jugs of bleach and were trying to bleach
everything out," Gleeson said. "It had just snowed ... and there was a blue
tint for a block. We knew they (the residents) were going to freak."
Campbell verified the incident.
"It did happen, because I've heard about it from our employees," he said,
adding that he also was told employees tried to bleach the snow.
PCI, which opened in 1986, is licensed to blend hundreds of chemicals,
including cyanide, mercury and arsenic, to use as fuel for industrial furnaces.
With the city's blessing, PCI set up shop directly north of the Brickyard,
home to about 30 families, most of whom are African-American.
The company grew so quickly and so much that it now borders the neighborhood
on three sides. PCI's work yard is only feet from many residents' front yards.
Campbell has said he will hold an "open house" at the plant this summer to
"show residents our processes" and foster understanding between the plant and
Although city officials said they have known about problems in the Brickyard
for several years, only recently have they held meetings to discuss relocating
Experts from around the country have called East Chicago's Brickyard
situation a classic example of "environmental racism."
"I would say that's probably true," Campbell said. "As far as PCI was
concerned, we bought (the property) from another company."
Recent nationwide research shows Brickyard residents aren't alone.
A 1987 report by the United Church of Christ found that three in five black
and Latino people live near uncontrolled toxic-waste sites.
A 1991 study found proposed toxic-waste incinerators are nearly twice as
likely to be located near minorities as near whites.
The federal Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry reports that
lead from plumbing, paint and tainted soil affects black children in
inordinately large numbers.
In June 1992, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency acknowledged that
minorities are disproportionately exposed to air pollutants and agricultural
pesticides in the workplace.
Indian reservations are frequent targets for waste-disposal.